Like many computer professionals, John Stovin’s IT journey began at home with a Commodore PET in the late 1970s. “I was about 14 years old,” recalled John, “and my dad was an early adopter of technology. He chose the machine to help automate his business processes. I quickly picked up basic programming skills and was soon developing code of my own.”

John caught the bug. After mainstream school, what had been a fascinating hobby soon became the focus of serious study, with a degree and an MSc in Computer Engineering from the University of Manchester. Then the world of work became reality with a small firm in Sowerby Bridge, near Halifax, working in an IT support office.

On the domestic front, John’s wife started a job as a lecturer at the University of Sheffield. A young daughter then expanded the family unit and was vying for his attention, so it was time to keep things local. “I chased a few contracts around the country, but travel becomes less and less appealing when it means you are away too often, so establishing the family base near Sheffield was an easy decision.”

Commodore PET
A Commodore PET, like that used by Senior Developer John Stovin in his youth.

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Variety is the spice of programming life, and stints with a company progressing digital mapping technology for water engineers, plus the exploration of 3D photography provided interest and a foundation for later opportunities.

There was, however, a brief dalliance with showbiz while John continued working in the 3D environment and then with emerging DVD authoring. Based at a firm near Sheffield’s Botanical Gardens, his team delivered the successful TV game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” to interactive disc format.

“The DVD version was a huge success,” said John, “and we then pushed on and sold similar services to a range of Hollywood studios that saw the potential of taking television favourites into the family game market.”

While John secured a well-deserved credit on the game packaging, unbeknown to him the early team members at Epitomy Solutions (where he would work over a decade later) enjoyed playing the same game back at their office. For a brief spell, they were also keen to develop similar software and their paths could have crossed earlier.

Time to teach and spread the code

Careers often take unusual twists and turns, but a spell at a company in Rotherham was notable for two reasons. First, the business developed marine navigation systems, which was fascinating given the firm’s location. Although the River Don weaves through the town it has never been famed for boating or water sports.

What grabbed John’s attention was amusing. “The work was interesting, and it was an easy commute. But sometimes it’s all about the culture of a place. What appealed to me was the amazing coffee machine in the office. It was a real centre piece, a bean-to-cup contraption, which brought staff together. They were so proud of it, they even featured in their recruitment ad.”

However, with John’s wife continuing to work at Sheffield University, it was no surprise that he would also become involved with education. So a switch to an organisation that created systems to assist colleges to track student progress was his next career move. He worked on software that followed the student lifecycle – from point of application, course content, exam results and individual student records. This extended to exam boards and enabled flexible transfer of data rather than one-off exports that soon became dated.

John also began working part-time at the University of Sheffield, acting as a mentor and guiding students as they developed systems to be used by departments around the campus. “There was a bit of nepotism if I’m honest, as I’d spent so much time in and around the university. I knew lecturers, parents and other staff because of our family associations. They also knew what I’d done, so it made sense. And I really enjoy helping others develop software that makes a difference.”

The BIG data challenge

John’s work at Sheffield University is ongoing, and he joined Epitomy Solutions as many businesses are looking at ways of harnessing and using vast amounts of technical data. He said: “Epitomy offers a range of solutions to manufacturers and distributors of complex machinery and associated parts. It was a great challenge and a good way to make use of a number of areas of experience that I have gained over the years in a variety of situations.”

“What excites me about Epitomy is the chance to embrace and offer new technologies to clients.”

With many observers describing the next decade as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, John believes there are some amazing opportunities for companies to maximise return on investment through the use of emerging technologies.

“Most firms have managed to get product details online, but the next step is managing complex relationships between parts, production costs, availability and pricing. There are ways to mine valuable information about customer activity and utilise that in business decisions.

“What excites me about Epitomy is the chance to embrace and offer new technologies to clients. Integrating 3D CAD data and enabling customers to explore parts using virtual and augmented reality will open up new possibilities. It will enhance the buying experience and build stronger relationships between organisations and their customers.”

Despite working with cutting-edge hardware and the latest coding languages, John clings on to one classic peripheral. “I’ve never liked the new, compact keyboards. So I always take my own wherever I work. I saw a few Dell keyboards on eBay and snapped them up. They feel so much better, with springs and switches beneath the keys. Of course the rest of the office can’t understand it and I’m the target for plenty of jokes.”

With his vast experience, John’s a real asset to the Epitomy team. His mentor role and understanding of the education system has also helped recent degree-level apprentices who have joined the company.

If only they understood the benefits of the old-school keyboards that have become John’s trademark in the Epitomy office.